Money Lessons You Need to Learn Before You Go to College by Elise Williams and Meleah Bowles

College is a time of learning, experience, and excitement, but it’s also a time where you’re going to be pretty broke—like “ramen noodle” broke. And no, that’s not just a stereotype. College doesn’t set students up to be flush with cash. First of all, between tuition and textbooks, college is expensive. Second of all, you’re too busy to make a ton of money at work.

But there are a few things you should be doing with what little money you do have that will help you out during your ramen noodle days because the sooner you start practicing good money habits, the better off you’ll be.

Don’t Buy Things You Already Paid For

The high school version of this would be not eating the lunch you packed in order to buy some pizza sticks from the a la carte line. The college version of this is eating out when you have a meal plan for the campus cafeteria (yes, I know you’ll get tired of the caf; everyone gets tired of the caf), paying for a gym membership or class pass when fitness center fees are included in your tuition, or paying for an apartment while also keeping a dorm room.

As previously noted, college is already expensive enough; don’t make it even harder on yourself!

Cheap = Good; Free = Better

The best advice anyone can give a college student is to collect ALL OF THE FREE THINGS. There are so many events in college where students can get free t-shirts, free food, free coupons, free cups, free pens—you name it. We cannot stress this enough: Take full advantage of these events and the free merch they give away.

Sure, you’re not in college yet. But the practice of trying to buy your love begins at college fairs you may have at school or when you’re at a college campus for tours or orientations.

And yes, all of this free stuff will inevitably look mismatched in your tiny dorm room or apartment, but reminder: you’re going to be in college. Everyone knows you’re broke right now, just like they are. You don’t need to have a dorm room that looks like it came from a Pottery Barn catalogue, a wardrobe that belongs in Vogue, or a fridge full of gourmet food. Once you graduate and start making the big bucks, go for it. But right now, in college, you need cheap.

Don’t Suck Your Emergency Fund (or Your Parents’ Bank Account) Dry

Having a little money set back for ’emergencies only’ is a lesson that’s important to learn early on, and then to remember for…well, basically forever. We talk about what specifically qualifies as a financial emergency in the emergency fund chapter of our book Common Cents, but the gist is: this is money to use only if you’re in a real pickle.
When you’re just starting out on your own and beginning to handle things separately from your parents, you most likely won’t have a great financial safety net. That means when big expenses come up, you’ll likely have to ask your parents for money.

Unfortunately, your parents are going to get really tired of giving you money if you ask them for every little thing. Instead, it shows them that you’re responsible if you take a beat and think “Is this really an emergency?” and only borrow money from them when you actually need to.

Meleah-and-Elise-the-teen-mentor.jpgAbout the Authors: Elise Williams and Meleah Bowles are Co-Founders of Earn Spend Live, a lifestyle website devoted to helping women navigate their career, grapple with their finances, and live their best life. Their books, You Goal, Girl: A Goal-Setting Workbook and Common Cents: A Budget Workbook are available now wherever books are sold. Learn more at

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